FAQ: 3D XPoint memory – NAND flash killer or DRAM replacement?

The new solid-state memory fills a growing niche in the data center for processing transactional data

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But there are other kinds of memory coming? There are --  namely, competing technologies such as Resistive RAM (ReRAM) and memrisor. But neither one has been produced in high capacities or shipped in large volume.

Last fall, Samsung debuted its new Z-NAND memory, an obvious competitor to 3D XPoint. The yet-to-be released Z-NAND SSDs were purported to sport four times faster latency and 1.6 times better sequential reading than 3D NAND flash. Samsung expects its Z-NAND to be released this year.

OK, so does this mean NAND is dead? Not by a long shot. While other non-volatile technologies may eventually challenge 3D XPoint, conventional NAND flash still has a long development road map ahead of it. It's likely to see at least another three rev cycles that will take it through at least 2025, according to Gartner.

While the latest versions of 3D or vertical NAND stacks up to 64 layers of flash cells atop one another for more dense memory than traditional planar NAND, makers already see stacks exceeding 96 layers beginning next year and more than 128 layers in years to come.

Additionally, current 3-bit per cell triple-level cell (TLC) NAND is expected to move to 4-bit per cell quadruple level cell (QLC) technology, further increasing density and driving down manufacturing costs.

"This is a very resilient industry in which we have some of the biggest semiconductor vendors in the world...and China. China wouldn't be getting into the NAND flash industry with billions of dollars if they thought it wouldn't last more than three or four or five years," Unsworth said. "I see 3D NAND slowing down, but I don't see it hitting a wall."

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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